Judy Hintermeister of Muscatine literally lights up the lives of her customers.

Her custom-made lamps, created with teapots and saucers, are elegant and truly one of a kind.

She got the idea while leafing through a magazine as she waited in a doctor’s office. She saw a pretty picture of a lamp in a feature about “what to do with mismatched china.”

She and a friend made a few of the teapot-based lamps. “Between us we sold seven and we were euphoric,” she said. And then “every single one of them fell apart.”

She told her customers they could return the pieces and she’d fix them or return their money. “They were OK if you were going to make your own stuff and never move it,” she said. “We figured out a system to create these things so that they would last a little longer.”

Now, about five years later, she calls them her “happy lamps. People look at them and they smile. They’re conversation pieces,” she said. Sometimes someone will spot one and say, “I want three of those,” and she has to turn down the request because no two are alike. Most of the time, her customers are pleased to own something that nobody else has.

Hintermeister, a former schoolteacher, has lived in Muscatine for 22 years. “People tell me I have an eye for design, proportion and colors,” she says. “I do believe that most people seem to have some outlet for something artistic.”

She finds the china to create her lamps at The Salvation Army, Goodwill stores and flea markets. “If it has a scalloped edge at the top, it’s not as solid an edge. … Flat is better for gluing,” she said. “If the handle is too close to the opening, that’s a problem. You want to put a saucer or a bowl on top of it.”

The trick, she says, is to have “a whole lot of stuff, and I’ve got a whole lot of stuff. If I buy a teapot or a cup and saucer, I’m pretty well assured if I go downstairs I’ll find something that’ll go with it.”

Very rarely does she find every element of a single lamp in one place. She shops everywhere for lampshades.

“I use a marine-grade glue to hold the pieces together. There’s a two-part process for putting the electrical part in whatever the top piece is — often a cup, but not always.”

After that, well, some of her secrets have to remain with her.

Once she decides on all the pieces, she washes and dries them. “The first day of doing it, I’ll get it ready and I’ll glue it. The next day I can put the electrical stuff in and finish it up. Most often it’s a two-day process. Some are complicated and you glue them in sections,” she said.

She sells a little more than 100 lamps annually, appearing at various venues — including the Old Threshers Reunion — in the Quad-City region. This will be her fifth year at the QCCA Expo show.

It was her first big show, she said.

“I remember walking in that first night thinking, ‘I’m in the wrong place.’

“It becomes a family,” she said. “I know the people who are around me. The level of the crafts that (show organizer) Chris (Beaty) has is very good,” she said, adding that show is “very well-choreographed.”

Soon, Hintermeister and her husband John, who helps her with set-up at venues and also helped figure out her gluing process, will leave the Midwest cold for a warmer climate.

“We’re officially snowbirds now,” she said. She doesn’t make lamps during the winter, but does continue to hunt for material.

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